The Egyptian government continues to make progress on economic reforms, and while many challenges remain, Egypt’s investment climate is improving. The country has undertaken a number of structural reforms since the flotation of the Egyptian Pound (EGP) in November 2016, and after successfully completing a set of difficult macroeconomic reforms as part of a three-year, $12-billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, Egypt was one of the fastest-growing emerging markets prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Egypt was also the only economy in the Middle East and North Africa to record positive economic growth in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Increased investor confidence and the reactivation of Egypt’s interbank foreign exchange (FX) market have attracted foreign portfolio investment and increased foreign reserves. The Government of Egypt (GoE) increasingly understands that attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) is key to addressing many of its economic challenges and has stated its intention to create a more conducive environment for FDI. FDI inflows grew 11 percent between 2018 and 2019, from $8.1 to $9 billion, before falling 39 percent to $5.5 billion in 2020 amid sharp global declines in FDI due to the pandemic, according to data from the Central Bank of Egypt and the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). UNCTAD ranked Egypt as the top FDI destination in Africa between 2016 and 2020.
Egypt has passed a number of regulatory reform laws, including a new investment law in 2017; a new companies law and a bankruptcy law in 2018; and a new customs law in 2020. These laws aim to improve Egypt’s investment and business climate and help the economy realize its full potential. The 2017 Investment Law is designed to attract new investment and provides a framework for the government to offer investors more incentives, consolidate investment-related rules, and streamline procedures. The 2020 Customs Law is likewise meant to streamline aspects of import and export procedures, including through a single-window system, electronic payments, and expedited clearances for authorized companies. The GoE is still developing implementation rules for the Customs Law.
The government also hopes to attract investment in several “mega projects,” including the construction of a new national administrative capital, and to promote mineral extraction opportunities. Egypt intends to capitalize on its location bridging the Middle East, Africa, and Europe to become a regional trade and investment gateway and energy hub, and hopes to attract information and communications technology (ICT) sector investments for its digital transformation program.
Egypt is a party to more than 100 bilateral investment treaties, including with the United States. It is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), and the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA). In many sectors, there is no legal difference between foreign and domestic investors. Special requirements exist for foreign investment in certain sectors, such as upstream oil and gas as well as real estate, where joint ventures are required.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The Egyptian government has made efforts to improve the transparency of government policy and to support a fair, competitive marketplace. Nevertheless, improving government transparency and consistency has proven difficult, and reformers have faced strong resistance from entrenched bureaucratic and private interests. Significant obstacles continue to hinder private investment, including the reportedly arbitrary imposition of bureaucratic impediments and the length of time needed to resolve them. Nevertheless, the impetus for positive change driven by the government reform agenda augurs well for improvement in policy implementation and transparency.
Enactment of laws is the purview of the Parliament, while executive regulations are the domain of line ministries. Under the Constitution, the president, the cabinet, and any member of parliament can present draft legislation. After submission, parliamentary committees review and approve, including any amendments. Upon parliamentary approval, a judicial body reviews the constitutionality of any legislation before referring it to the president for his approval.
Although notice and full drafts of legislation are typically printed in the Official Gazette (similar to the Federal Register in the United States), there is no centralized online location where the government publishes comprehensive details about regulatory decisions or their summaries, and in practice consultation with the public is limited. In recent years, the Ministry of Trade and other government bodies have circulated draft legislation among concerned parties, including business associations and labor unions. This has been a welcome change from previous practice, but is not yet institutionalized across the government.
While Egyptian parliaments have historically held “social dialogue” sessions with concerned parties and private or civic organizations to discuss proposed legislation, it is unclear to what degree the current Parliament will adopt a more inclusive approach to social dialogue. Many aspects of the 2016 IMF program and related economic reforms stimulated parliament to engage more broadly with the public, marking some progress in this respect.
Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms. The Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) supervises and regulates all non-banking financial markets and instruments, including capital markets, futures exchanges, insurance activities, mortgage finance, financial leasing, factoring, securitization, and microfinance. It issues rules that facilitate market efficiency and transparency. FRA has issued legislation and regulatory decisions on non-banking financial laws which govern FRA’s work and the entities under its supervision. ( )
The criteria for awarding government contracts and licenses are made available when bid rounds are announced. The process actually used to award contracts is broadly consistent with the procedural requirements set forth by law. Further, set-aside requirements for small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) participation in GoE procurement are increasingly highlighted. The FRA publishes key laws and regulations to the following website:
The Parliament and the independent “Administrative Control Authority” both ensure the government’s commitment to follow administrative processes at all levels of government.
The cabinet develops and submits proposed regulations to the president following discussion and consultation with the relevant ministry and informal consultation with other interest groups. Based on the recommendations provided in the proposal, including recommendations by the presidential advisors, the president issues “Presidential Decrees” that function as implementing regulations. Presidential decrees are published in the Official Gazette for enforcement.
The degree to which ministries and government agencies responsible for drafting, implementing, or enforcing a given regulation coordinate with other stakeholders varies widely. Although some government entities may attempt to analyze and debate proposed legislation or rules, there are no laws requiring scientific studies or quantitative regulatory impact analyses prior to finalizing or implementing new laws or regulations. Not all issued regulations are announced online, and not all public comments received by regulators are made public.
The government made its budget documents widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online. Budget documents did not include allocations to military state-owned enterprises, nor allocations to and earnings from state-owned enterprises. Information on government debt obligations was publicly available online, but up-to-date and clear information on state-owned enterprise debt guaranteed by the government was not available. According to information the Central Bank has provided to the World Bank, the lack of information available about publicly guaranteed private-sector debt meant that this debt was generally recorded as private-sector non-guaranteed debt, thus potentially obscuring some contingent debt liabilities.
International Regulatory Considerations
In general, international standards are the main reference for Egyptian standards. According to the Egyptian Organization for Standardization and Quality Control, approximately 7,000 national standards are aligned with international standards in various sectors. In the absence of international standards, Egypt uses other references referred to in Ministerial Decrees No. 180/1996 and No. 291/2003, which stipulate that in the absence of Egyptian standards, the producers and importers may use European standards (EN), U.S. standards (ANSI), or Japanese standards (JIS).
Egypt is a member of the WTO, participates actively in various committees, and notifies technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Egypt ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in June 2017 (Presidential decree No. 149/2017), and deposited its formal notification to the WTO on June 24, 2019. Egypt notified indicative and definitive dates for implementing Category B and C commitments on June 20, 2019, but to date has not notified dates for implementing Category A commitments. In August 2020 the Egyptian Parliament passed a new Customs Law, Law 207 of 2020, that includes provisions for key TFA reforms, including advance rulings, separation of release, a single-window system, expedited customs procedures for authorized economic operators, post-clearance audits, and e-payments.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Egypt’s legal system is a civil codified law system based on the French model. If contractual disputes arise, claimants can sue for remedies through the court system or seek resolution through arbitration. Egypt has written commercial and contractual laws. The country has a system of economic courts, specializing in private-sector disputes, which have jurisdiction over cases related to economic and commercial matters, including intellectual property disputes. The judiciary is set up as an independent branch of the government.
Regulations and enforcement actions can be appealed through Egypt’s courts, though appellants often complain about the lengthy judicial process, which can often take years. To enforce judgments of foreign courts in Egypt, the party seeking to enforce the judgment must obtain an exequatur (a legal document issued by governments allowing judgements to be enforced). To apply for an exequatur, the normal procedures for initiating a lawsuit in Egypt must be satisfied. Moreover, several other conditions must be satisfied, including ensuring reciprocity between the Egyptian and foreign country’s courts, and verifying the competence of the court rendering the judgment.
Judges in Egypt enjoy a high degree of public trust, according to Egyptian lawyers and opinion polls, and are the designated monitors for general elections. The Judiciary is proud of its independence and can point to a number of cases where a judge has made surprising decisions that run counter to the desires of the regime. The judge’s ability to interpret the law can sometimes lead to an uneven application of justice.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
No specialized court exists for foreign investments.
In 2017 the Parliament also passed the Industrial Permits Act, which reduced the time it takes to license a new factory by mandating that the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) respond to a request for a license within 30 days of the request being filed. As of February 2020, new regulations allow IDA regional branch directors or their designees to grant conditional licenses to industrial investors until other registration requirements are complete.
In 2016, the Import-Export Law was revised to allow companies wishing to register in the Import Registry to be 51 percent owned and managed by Egyptians; formerly the law required 100 percent Egyptian ownership and management. In November 2016, the inter-ministerial Supreme Investment Council also announced seventeen presidential decrees designed to spur investment or resolve longstanding issues. These include:
- Forming a “National Payments Council” that will work to restrict the handling of FX outside the banking sector;
- Producers of agricultural crops that Egypt imports or exports will get tax exemptions;
- Five-year tax exemptions for manufacturers of “strategic” goods that Egypt imports or exports;
- Five-year tax exemptions for agriculture and industrial investments in Upper Egypt; and
- Begin tendering land with utilities for industry in Upper Egypt for free as outlined by the Industrial Development Authority.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The Egyptian Competition Law (ECL), Law 3 of 2005, provides the framework for the government’s competition rules and anti-trust policies. The ECL prohibits the abuse of dominant market positions, which it defines as a situation in which a company’s market share exceeds 25 percent and in which the company is able to influence market prices or volumes regardless of competitors’ actions. The ECL prohibits vertical agreements or contracts between purchasers and suppliers that are intended to restrict competition, and also forbids agreements among competitors such as price collusion, production-restriction agreements, market sharing, and anti-competitive arrangements in the tendering process. The ECL applies to all types of persons or enterprises carrying out economic activities, but includes exemptions for some government-controlled public utilities. In early 2019, the Egyptian Parliament endorsed a number of amendments to the ECL, including controls on price hikes and prices of essential products and higher penalties for violations.
In addition to the ECL, other laws cover various aspects of competition policy. The Companies Law (Law 159/1981) contains provisions on mergers and acquisitions; the Law of Supplies and Commerce (Law 17 of 1999) forbids competition-reducing activities such as collusion and hoarding; and the Telecommunications Law (Law 10 of 2003), the Intellectual Property Law (Law 82 of 2002), and the Insurance Supervision and Control Law (Law 10 of 1981) also include provisions on competition.
The Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) is responsible for protecting competition and prohibiting the monopolistic practices defined within the ECL. The ECA has the authority to receive and investigate complaints, initiate its own investigations, and take decisions and necessary steps to stop anti-competitive practices. The ECA’s enforcement powers include conducting raids; using search warrants; requesting data and documentation; and imposing “cease and desist orders” on violators of the ECL. The ECA’s enforcement activities against government entities are limited to requesting data and documentation, as well as advocacy.
Expropriation and Compensation
Egypt’s Investment Incentives Law provides guarantees against nationalization or confiscation of investment projects under the law’s domain. The law also provides guarantees against seizure, requisition, blocking, and placing of assets under custody or sequestration. It offers guarantees against full or partial expropriation of real estate and investment project property. The U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty also provides protection against expropriation. Private firms are able to take cases of alleged expropriation to court, but the judicial system can take several years to resolve a case.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Egypt acceded to the International Convention for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 1971 and is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, which provides a framework for the arbitration of investment disputes between the government and foreign investors from another member state, provided the parties agree to such arbitration. Without prejudice to Egyptian courts, the Investment Incentives Law recognizes the right of investors to settle disputes within the framework of bilateral agreements, the ICSID, or through arbitration before the Regional Center for International Commercial Arbitration in Cairo, which applies the rules of the United Nations Commissions on International Trade Law.
Egypt adheres to the 1958 New York Convention on the Enforcement of Arbitral Awards; the 1965 Washington Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and the Nationals of Other States; and the 1974 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between the Arab States and Nationals of Other States. An award issued pursuant to arbitration that took place outside Egypt may be enforced in Egypt if it is either covered by one of the international conventions to which Egypt is party or it satisfies the conditions set out in Egypt’s Dispute Settlement Law 27 of 1994, which provides for the arbitration of domestic and international commercial disputes and limited challenges of arbitration awards in the Egyptian judicial system. The Dispute Settlement Law was amended in 1997 to include disputes between public enterprises and the private sector.
To enforce judgments of foreign courts in Egypt, the party seeking to enforce the judgment must obtain an exequatur. To apply for an exequatur, the normal procedures for initiating a lawsuit in Egypt and several other conditions must be satisfied, including ensuring reciprocity between the Egyptian and foreign country’s courts and verifying the competence of the court rendering the judgment.
Egypt has a system of economic courts specializing in private-sector disputes that have jurisdiction over cases related to economic and commercial matters, including intellectual property disputes. Despite these provisions, business and investors in Egypt’s renewable energy projects have reported significant problems resolving disputes with the Government of Egypt.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty allows an investor to take a dispute directly to binding third-party arbitration. The Egyptian courts generally endorse international arbitration clauses in commercial contracts. For example, the Court of Cassation has, on a number of occasions, confirmed the validity of arbitration clauses included in contracts between Egyptian and foreign parties.
A new mechanism for simplified settlement of investment disputes aimed at avoiding the court system altogether has been established. In particular, the law established a Ministerial Committee on Investment Contract Disputes, responsible for the settlement of disputes arising from investment contracts to which the State, or a public or private body affiliated therewith, is a party. This is in addition to establishing a Complaint Committee to consider challenges connected to the implementation of Egypt’s Investment Law. Finally, the decree established a Committee for Resolution of Investment Disputes, which will review complaints or disputes between investors and the government related to the implementation of the Investment Law. In practice, Egypt’s dispute resolution mechanisms are time-consuming but broadly effective. Businesses have, however, reported difficulty collecting payment from the government when awarded a monetary settlement.
Over the past 10 years, there have been several investment disputes involving both U.S. persons and foreign investors. Most of the cases have been settled, though no definitive number is available. Local courts in Egypt recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government. There are no known extrajudicial actions against foreign investors in Egypt during the period of this report.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Egypt allows mediation as a mechanism for alternative dispute resolution (ADR), a structured negotiation process in which an independent person known as a mediator assists the parties to identify and assess options, and negotiate an agreement to resolve their dispute. GAFI has an Investment Disputes Settlement Center, which uses mediation as an ADR.
The Economic Court recognizes and enforces arbitral awards. Judgments of foreign courts may be recognized and enforceable under local courts under limited conditions.
In most cases, domestic courts have found in favor of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) involved in investment disputes. In such disputes, non-government parties have often complained about the delays and discrimination in court processes.
Many foreign investors employ clauses that specify that U.S. companies employ contractual clauses that specify binding international (not local) arbitration of disputes in their commercial agreements.
Egypt passed a Bankruptcy Law (Law 11 of 2018) in January 2018, which was designed to speed up the restructuring of troubled companies and settlement of their accounts. It also replaced the threat of imprisonment with fines in cases of bankruptcy. As of July 2020, the Egyptian government was considering but had not yet implemented amendments to the 2018 law that would allow debtors to file for bankruptcy protection, and would give creditors the ability to determine whether debtors could continue operating, be placed under administrative control, or be forced to liquidate their assets.
In practice, the paperwork involved in liquidating a business remains convoluted and protracted; starting a business is much easier than shutting one down. Bankruptcy is frowned upon in Egyptian culture, and many businesspeople still believe they may be found criminally liable if they declare bankruptcy.
4. Industrial Policies
The Investment Law 72/2017 gives multiple incentives to investors as described below. In August 2019, President Sisi ratified amendments to the Investment Law that allow its incentive programs to apply to expansions of existing investment projects in addition to new investments.
- All investment projects subject to the provisions of the new law enjoy the general incentives provided by it.
- Investors are exempted from the stamp tax, notary fees, registration of the Memorandum of Incorporation of the companies, credit facilities, and mortgage contracts associated with their business for five years from the date of registration in the Commercial Registry, in addition to the registration contracts of the lands required for a company’s establishment.
- If the establishment is under the provisions of the new investment law, it will benefit from a two-percent unified custom tax over all imported machinery, equipment, and devices required for the set-up of such a company.
Special Incentive Programs:
- Investment projects established within three years of the date of the issuance of the Investment Law (Law 72 of 2017) will enjoy a perpetual deduction from their net profit subject to the income tax;
- 50 percent deduction of depreciated investment costs from taxes, infrastructure fees, and cost of lands for projects in regions the government has identified as most in need of development, as well as designated projects in Suez Canal Special Economic Zone and the “Golden Triangle” along the Red Sea between the cities of Safaga, Qena, and El Quseer; or
- 30 percent deduction of depreciated investment costs from taxes, infrastructure fees, and land costs for projects elsewhere in Egypt; and
- Provided that such deduction shall not exceed 80 percent of the paid-up capital of the company, the incentive could be utilized over a maximum of seven years.
Additional Incentive Program:
The Cabinet of Ministers may decide to grant additional incentives for investment projects in accordance with specific rules and regulations as follows:
- The establishment of special customs ports for exports and imports of the investment projects.
- The state may incur part of the costs of the technical training for workers.
- Free allocation of land for a few strategic activities may apply.
- The government may bear in full or in part the costs incurred by the investor to invest in utility connections for the investment project.
- The government may refund half the price of the land allocated to industrial projects in the event of starting production within two years from receiving the land.
Other Incentives related to Free Zones according to Investment Law 72/2017:
- Exemption from all taxes and customs duties.
- Exemption from all import/export regulations.
- The option to sell a certain percentage of production domestically if customs duties are paid.
- Limited exemptions from labor provisions.
- All equipment, machinery, and essential means of transport (excluding sedan cars) necessary for business operations are exempted from all customs, import duties, and sales taxes.
- All licensing procedures are handled by GAFI. To remain eligible for benefits, investors operating inside the free zones must export more than 50 percent of their total production.
- Manufacturing or assembly projects pay an annual charge of one percent of the total value of their products excluding all raw materials. Storage facilities are to pay one percent of the value of goods entering the free zones, while service projects pay one percent of total annual revenue.
- Goods in transit to specific destinations are exempt from any charges.
Other Incentives related to the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone): 100 percent foreign ownership of companies allowed.
- 100 percent foreign ownership of companies allowed.
- 100 percent foreign control of import/export activities allowed.
- Imports are exempted from customs duties and sales tax.
- Customs duties on exports to Egypt imposed on imported components only, not the final product.
- Fast-track visa services.
- A full service one-stop shop for registration and licensing.
- Allowing enterprises access to the domestic market; duties on sales to domestic market will be assessed on the value of imported inputs only.
The Tenders Law (Law 89/1998) requires the government to consider both price and best value in awarding contracts and to issue an explanation for refusal of a bid. However, the law contains preferences for Egyptian domestic contractors, who are accorded priority if their bids do not exceed the lowest foreign bid by more than 15 percent.
The Ministry of Industry & Foreign Trade and the Ministry of Finance’s Decree No. 719/2007 provides incentives for industrial projects in the governorates of Upper Egypt (Upper Egypt refers to governorates in southern Egypt). The decree provides an incentive of 15,000 EGP (approx. $940) for each job opportunity created by the project, on the condition that the investment costs of the project exceed 15 million EGP (approx. $940,000). The decree can be implemented on both new and ongoing projects.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Public and private free-trade zones are authorized under GAFI’s Investment Incentive Law No. 72 of 2017. Free zones are located within the national territory, but are considered to be outside Egypt’s customs boundaries, granting firms doing business within them more freedom on transactions and exchanges. Companies producing largely for export (normally 80 percent or more of total production) may be established in free-trade zones and operate using foreign currency. Free-trade zones are open to investment by foreign or domestic investors. Companies operating in free-trade zones are exempted from sales taxes or taxes and fees on capital assets and intermediate goods. The Legislative Package for the Stimulation of Investment, issued in 2015, stipulated a one-percent duty paid on the value of commodities upon entry for storage projects and a one-percent duty upon exit for manufacturing and assembly projects.
There are currently nine public free trade zones in operation in the following locations: Alexandria; Damietta; Ismailia; Qeft; Media Production City; Nasr City; Port Said; Shebin el Kom; and Suez. Private free-trade zones may also be established with a decree by GAFI but are usually limited to a single project. Export-oriented industrial projects are given priority. There is no restriction on foreign ownership of capital in private free zones.
The Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Law 83/2002 allows establishment of special zones for industrial, agricultural, or service activities designed specifically with the export market in mind. The law allows firms operating in these zones to import capital equipment, raw materials, and intermediate goods duty free. Companies established in the SEZs are also exempt from sales and indirect taxes and can operate under more flexible labor regulations. The first SEZ was established in the northwest Gulf of Suez.
Investment Law 72 of 2017 authorized creation of investment zones with Prime Ministerial approval. The government regulates these zones through a board of directors, but the zones are established, built, and operated by the private sector. The government does not provide any infrastructure or utilities in these zones. Investment zones enjoy the same benefits as free zones in terms of facilitation of license-issuance, ease of dealing with other agencies, etc., but are not granted the incentives and tax/custom exemptions enjoyed in free zones. Projects in investment zones pay the same tax/customs duties applied throughout Egypt. The aim of the law is to assist the private sector in diversifying its economic activities. There are currently five investment zones located in Cairo, Giza, and Ismailia, and in 2019 GAFI approved the development of an additional 12 investment zones in the Alexandria, Dakhalia, Damietta, Fayoum, Giza, Qalyubia, and Sharkia governorates.
The Suez Canal Economic Zone ( , a major industrial and logistics services hub announced in 2014, includes upgrades and renovations to ports located along the Suez Canal corridor, including West and East Port Said, Ismailia, Suez, Adabiya, and Ain Sokhna. The Egyptian government has invited foreign investors to take part in the projects, which are expected to be built in several stages, the first of which was scheduled to be completed by mid-2020. Reported areas for investment include maritime services like ship repair services, bunkering, vessel scrapping and recycling; industrial projects, including pharmaceuticals, food processing, automotive production, consumer electronics, textiles, and petrochemicals; IT services such as research and development and software development; renewable energy; and mixed use, residential, logistics, and commercial developments.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Egypt has rules on national percentages of employment and difficult visa and work permit procedures. The government plans to phase out visas for unskilled workers, but as yet has not done so. For most other jobs, employers may hire foreign workers on a temporary six-month basis, but must also hire two Egyptians to be trained to do the job during that period. Only jobs where it is not possible for Egyptians to acquire the requisite skills will remain open to foreign workers. The application of these regulations is inconsistent. The Labor Law allows Ministers to set the maximum percentage of foreign workers that may work in companies in a given sector. There are no such sector-wide maximums for the oil and gas industry, but individual concession agreements may contain language establishing limits or procedures regarding the proportion of foreign and local employees.
No performance requirements are specified in the Investment Incentives Law, and the ability to fulfill local content requirements is not a prerequisite for approval to set up assembly projects. In many cases, however, assembly industries still must meet a minimum local content requirement in order to benefit from customs tariff reductions on imported industrial inputs.
Decree 184/2013 allows for the reduction of customs tariffs on intermediate goods if the final product has a certain percentage of input from local manufacturers, beginning at 30 percent local content. As the percentage of local content rises, so does the tariff reduction, reaching up to 90 percent if the amount of local input is 60 percent or above. Exporters receive additional subsidies if they use a greater portion of local raw materials. In certain cases, a minister can grant tariff reductions of up to 40 percent in advance.
Prime Minister issued Decision No. 3053 of 2019 regarding the formation of joint committees in the inspection yards at each customs port. These committees include representatives of the customs authority and the concerned authorities and bodies according to type of goods. The committees are responsible for completing inspection and control procedures for imported or exported goods within a period not exceeding three working days from the date of the customs declaration was registered.
Manufacturers wishing to export under trade agreements between Egypt and other countries must complete certificates of origin and satisfy the local content requirements contained therein. Oil and gas exploration concessions, which do not fall under the Investment Incentives Law, have performance standards specified in each individual agreement, which generally include the drilling of a specific number of wells in each phase of the exploration period stipulated in the agreement.
Egypt does not impose localization barriers on ICT firms. Egypt’s Personal Data Protection Act (Law 151/2020), signed into law in July 2020, will require licenses for cross-border data transfers once the law’s executive regulations are finalized, but it will not impose any data localization requirements. Similarly, Egypt does not make local production a requirement for market access, does not have local content requirements, and does not impose forced technology or intellectual property transfers as a condition of market access. But there are exceptions where the government has attempted to impose controls by requesting access to a company’s servers located offshore, or requested servers to be located in Egypt and thus under the government’s control.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
To date, high returns on Egyptian government debt have crowded out Egyptian investment in productive capacity. Consistently positive and relatively high real interest rates have attracted large foreign capital inflows since 2017, most of which has been volatile portfolio capital. Returns on Egyptian government debt have begun to come down, which could presage investment by Egyptian capital in the real economy.
The Egyptian Stock Exchange (EGX) is Egypt’s registered securities exchange. Some 240 companies were listed on the EGX, including Nilex, as of February 2021. There were more than 500,000 investors registered to trade on the exchange in 2019, and the Egyptian market attracted 28,240 new investors in 2020. Stock ownership is open to foreign and domestic individuals and entities. The Government of Egypt issues dollar-denominated and Egyptian Pound-denominated debt instruments, for which ownership is open to foreign and domestic individuals and entities. The government has developed a positive outlook toward foreign portfolio investment, recognizing the need to attract foreign capital to help develop the Egyptian economy. Foreign investors conducted 16 percent of sales on the EGX in 2020.
The Capital Market Law 95/1992, along with Banking Law 94 that President Sisi ratified in September 2020, constitute the primary regulatory frameworks for the financial sector. The law grants foreigners full access to capital markets, and authorizes establishment of Egyptian and foreign companies to provide underwriting of subscriptions, brokerage services, securities and mutual funds management, clearance and settlement of security transactions, and venture capital activities. The law specifies mechanisms for arbitration and legal dispute resolution and prohibits unfair market practices. Law 10/2009 created the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority (EFSA) and brought the regulation of all non-banking financial services under its authority. In 2017, EFSA became the Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA).
Settlement of transactions takes one day for treasury bonds and two days for stocks. Although Egyptian law and regulations allow companies to adopt bylaws limiting or prohibiting foreign ownership of shares, virtually no listed stocks have such restrictions. A significant number of the companies listed on the exchange are family-owned or -dominated conglomerates, and free trading of shares in many of these ventures, while increasing, remains limited. Companies are de-listed from the exchange if not traded for six months.
Prior to November 2020, foreign companies enlisting on the EGX had to possess minimum capital of $100 million. With the FRA’s passage of new rules, foreign companies joining the EGX must now meet lesser requirements matching those for Egyptian companies: $6.4 million (100 million EGP) for large companies and between $63,000 and $6.4 million (1-100 million EGP) for smaller companies, depending on their size. Foreign businesses are only eligible for these lower minimum capital requirements if the EGX is their first exchange and if they attribute more than 50 percent of their shareholders’ equites, revenues, and assets to Egyptian subsidiary companies.
The Finance Ministry announced in May 2020 the suspension of stock market capital gains taxes for Egyptian tax residents until December 31, 2021, and made stock market capital gains permanently tax-exempt for non-tax residents and foreigners. The government also set the stamp tax on stock market transactions by non-tax residents at 0.125 percent and at 0.05 percent for tax residents.
Foreign investors can access Egypt’s banking system by opening accounts with local banks and buying and selling all marketable securities with brokerages. The government has repeatedly emphasized its commitment to maintaining the profit repatriation system to encourage foreign investment in Egypt, especially since the pound flotation and implementation of the IMF loan program in November 2016. The current system for profit repatriation by foreign firms requires sub-custodian banks to open foreign and local currency accounts for foreign investors (global custodians), which are exclusively maintained for stock exchange transactions. The two accounts serve as a channel through which foreign investors process their sales, purchases, dividend collections, and profit repatriation transactions using the bank’s posted daily exchange rates. The system is designed to allow for settlement of transactions in fewer than two days, though in practice some firms have reported significant delays in repatriating profits due to problems with availability. Foreign firms and individuals continue to report delays in repatriating funds and problems accessing hard currency for the purpose of repatriating profits.
The Egyptian credit market, open to foreigners, is vibrant and active. Repatriation of investment profits has become much easier, as there is enough available hard currency to execute foreign exchange (FX) trades. Since the flotation of the Egyptian Pound in November 2016, FX trading is considered straightforward, given the re-establishment of the interbank foreign currency trading system.
Money and Banking System
Benefitting from the nation’s increasing economic stability over the past two years, Egypt’s banks have enjoyed both ratings upgrades and continued profitability. Thanks to economic reforms, a new floating exchange system, and a new Investment Law (Law 72/2017) passed in 2017, the project finance pipeline is increasing after a period of lower activity. Banking competition is serving a largely untapped retail segment and the nation’s challenging, but potentially rewarding, small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) segment.
The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) requires that banks direct 25 percent of their lending to SMEs. In December 2019, the Central Bank launched a $6.4 billion (100 billion EGP) initiative to spur domestic manufacturing through subsidized loans. Also, with only about a quarter of Egypt’s adult population owning or sharing an account at a formal financial institution (according press and comments from contacts), the banking sector has potential for growth and higher inclusion, which the government and banks discuss frequently. A low median income plays a part in modest banking penetration.
The CBE has taken steps to work with banks and technology companies to expand financial inclusion. The employees of the government, one of the largest employers, must now have bank accounts because salary payment is through direct deposit. The CBE approved new procedures in October 2020 to allow deposits and the opening of new bank accounts with only a government-issued ID, rather than additional documents. The maximum limits for withdrawals and account balances also increased. In July 2020, President Sisi ratified a new Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) Development Law (Law 152 of 2020) that will provide incentives, tax breaks, and discounts for small, informal businesses willing to register their businesses and begin paying taxes.
As an attempt to keep pace with best practice and international norms, President Sisi ratified a new Banking Law, Law 94 of 2020, in September 2020. The law establishes a National Payment Council headed by the President to move Egypt away from cash and toward electronic payments; establishes a committee headed by the Prime Minister to resolve disputes between the CBE and the Ministry of Finance; establishes a CBE unit to handle complaints of monopolistic behaviors; requires banks to increase their cash holdings to $320 million (5 billion EGP), up from the prior minimum of $32 million (500 million EGP); and requires banks to report deficiencies in their own audits to the CBE.
Egypt’s banking sector is generally regarded as healthy and well-capitalized, due in part to its deposit-based funding structure and ample liquidity, especially since the flotation and restoration of the interbank market. The CBE declared that 3.6 percent of the banking sector’s loans were non-performing by December 2020. However, since 2011, a high level of exposure to government debt, accounting for over 40 percent of banking system assets, at the expense of private-sector lending, has reduced the diversity of bank balance sheets and crowded out domestic investment. Given the flotation of the Egyptian Pound and restart of the interbank trading system, Moody’s and S&P have upgraded the outlook of Egypt’s banking system to stable from negative to reflect improving macroeconomic conditions and ongoing commitment to reform. In December 2020, Moody’s affirmed Egypt’s government issuer rating of B2 stable due to the government’s relatively low issuance of foreign currency loans and relatively low external government debt.
Thirty-eight banks operate in Egypt, including several foreign banks. The CBE has not issued a new commercial banking license since 1979. The only way for a new commercial bank, whether foreign or domestic, to enter the market (except as a representative office) is to purchase an existing bank. To this end, in 2013, QNB Group acquired National Société Générale Bank Egypt (NSGB). That same year, Emirates NBD, Dubai’s largest bank, bought the Egypt unit of BNP Paribas. In 2015, Citibank sold its retail banking division to CIB Bank. In 2017, Barclays Bank PLC transferred its entire shareholding to Attijariwafa Bank Group. In January 2021, Bahrain’s bank ABC completed its purchase of the Egypt-based, Lebanon-owned BLOM bank, while First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) signed an agreement to acquire Bank Audi in Egypt. In 2016 and 2017, Egypt indicated a desire to partially (less than 35 percent) privatize at least one state-owned bank and a total of 23 firms through either expanded or new listings on the Egypt Stock Exchange. As of April 2020 the only step towards implementing this privatization program was the offering of 4.5 percent of the shares of state-owned Eastern Tobacco Company on the stock market. The state-owned Banque du Caire postponed plans to offer some of its shares on the EGX due to the novel coronavirus.
According to the CBE, banks operating in Egypt held nearly $446 billion (7 trillion EGP) in total assets as of December 2020, with the five largest banks holding more than 69 percent, or $309 billion (4.86 trillion EGP), of holdings by the end of 2020.
The chairman of the EGX recently stated that Egypt is exploring the use of block chain technologies across the banking community. The FRA will review the development and most likely regulate how the banking system adopts the fast-developing block chain systems into banks’ back-end and customer-facing processing and transactions. Seminars and discussions are beginning around Cairo, including visitors from Silicon Valley. While not outright banning cryptocurrencies, authorities caution against speculation in unknown asset classes.
Alternative financial services in Egypt are extensive, given the large informal economy, estimated to account for between 30 and 50 percent of GDP. Informal lending is prevalent, but the total capitalization, number of loans, and types of terms in private finance is less well known.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
There had been significant progress in accessing hard currency since the flotation of the pound and re-establishment of the interbank currency trading system in November 2016. While the immediate aftermath saw some lingering difficulty of accessing currency, as of 2017 most businesses operating in Egypt reported having little difficulty obtaining hard currency for business purposes, such as importing inputs and repatriating profits. There are no dollar deposit limits on households and firms importing priority goods such as food products, pharmaceuticals, and basic raw materials. With net foreign reserves of $40.2 billion as of February 2021, Egypt’s foreign reserves appear to be well capitalized, although recent inflows are in part due to assistance payments by international financial institutions such as the IMF.
Funds associated with investment can be freely converted into any world currency available on the local market. Some firms and individuals report the process is slow. But the interbank trading system works in general, and currency is available as the foreign-exchange markets continue to react positively to the government’s commitment to macroeconomic and structural reform.
The value of the EGP generally fluctuates depending on market conditions, without direct market intervention by authorities. In general, the EGP has stabilized within an acceptable exchange rate range, which has increased the foreign exchange market’s liquidity. Since the early days following the flotation, there has been very low exchange-rate volatility.
The 1992 U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty provides for free transfer of dividends, royalties, compensation for expropriation, payments arising out of an investment dispute, contract payments, and proceeds from sales. Prior to reform implementation throughout 2016 and 2017, large corporations had been unable to repatriate local earnings for months at a time, but repatriation of funds is no longer restricted. The Investment Incentives Law (Law 72 of 2017) (IIL) stipulates that non-Egyptian employees hired by projects established under the law are entitled to transfer their earnings abroad. Conversion and transfer of royalty payments are permitted when a patent, trademark, or other licensing agreement has been approved under the IIL.
The Investment Incentives Law (Law 72 of 2017) (IIL) stipulates that non-Egyptian employees hired by projects established under the law are entitled to transfer their earnings abroad. Conversion and transfer of royalty payments are permitted when a patent, trademark, or other licensing agreement has been approved under the IIL. Banking Law 94 of 2020 regulates the repatriation of profits and capital. The current system for profit repatriation by foreign firms requires sub-custodian banks to open foreign and local currency accounts for foreign investors (global custodians), which are exclusively maintained for stock-exchange transactions. The two accounts serve as a channel through which foreign investors process their sales, purchases, dividend collections, and profit-repatriation transactions using the bank’s posted daily exchange rates. The system is designed to allow for settlement of transactions in less than two days, though in practice some firms have reported short delays in repatriating profits due to the steps involved in processing.
Banking Law 94 of 2020 regulates the repatriation of profits and capital. The current system for profit repatriation by foreign firms requires sub-custodian banks to open foreign and local currency accounts for foreign investors (global custodians), which are exclusively maintained for stock-exchange transactions. The two accounts serve as a channel through which foreign investors process their sales, purchases, dividend collections, and profit-repatriation transactions using the bank’s posted daily exchange rates. The system is designed to allow for settlement of transactions in less than two days, though in practice some firms have reported short delays in repatriating profits due to the steps involved in processing.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Egypt’s sovereign wealth fund (SWF), approved by the Cabinet and launched in late 2018, holds 200 billion EGP ($12.5 billion) in authorized capital as of December 2020. The SWF aims to invest state funds locally and abroad across asset classes and manage underutilized government assets. The sovereign wealth fund focuses on sectors considered vital to the Egyptian economy, particularly industry, energy, and tourism, and has established four new sub-funds covering healthcare, financial services, tourism, real estate, and infrastructure. The SWF participates in the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. The government is currently in talks with regional and European institutions to take part in forming the fund’s sector-specific units.
Egypt has a set of laws to combat corruption by public officials, including an Anti-Bribery Law (articles 103 through 111 of Egypt’s Penal Code), an Illicit Gains Law (Law 62/1975 and subsequent amendments in Law 97/2015), and a Governmental Accounting Law (Law 27/1981), among others. Countering corruption remains a long-term focus. However, corruption laws have not been consistently enforced. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Egypt 106 out of 198 in its 2019 survey. Transparency International also found that approximately 50 percent of Egyptians reported paying a bribe in order to obtain a public service.
Some private companies use internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials. There is no government requirement for private companies to establish internal codes of conduct to prohibit bribery.
Egypt ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2005. It has not acceded to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery or any other regional anti-corruption conventions.
While NGOs are active in encouraging anti-corruption activities, dialogue between the government and civil society on this issue is almost non-existent, the OECD found in 2009 in a trend that continues to this day. While government officials publicly asserted they shared civil society organizations’ goals, they rarely cooperated with NGOs, and applied relevant laws in a highly restrictive manner against NGOs critical of government practices. Media was also limited in its ability to report on corruption, with Article 188 of the Penal Code mandating heavy fines and penalties for unsubstantiated corruption allegations.
U.S. firms have identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI in Egypt. Companies might encounter corruption in the public sector in the form of requests for bribes, using bribes to facilitate required government approvals or licenses, embezzlement, and tampering with official documents. Corruption and bribery are reported in dealing with public services, customs (import license and import duties), public utilities (water and electrical connection), construction permits, and procurement, as well as in the private sector. Businesses have described a dual system of payment for services, with one formal payment and a secondary, unofficial payment required for services to be rendered.
Resources to Report Corruption
Several agencies within the Egyptian government share responsibility for addressing corruption. Egypt’s primary anticorruption body is the Administrative Control Authority (ACA), which has jurisdiction over state administrative bodies, state-owned enterprises, public associations and institutions, private companies undertaking public work, and organizations to which the state contributes in any form. 2017 amendments to the ACA law grant the organization full technical, financial, and administrative authority to investigate corruption within the public sector (with the exception of military personnel/entities). The ACA appears well funded and well trained when compared with other Egyptian law enforcement organizations. Strong funding and the current ACA leadership’s close relationship with President Sisi reflect the importance of this organization and its mission. However, it is small (roughly 300 agents) and is often tasked with work that would not normally be conducted by a law enforcement agency.
The ACA periodically engages with civil society. For example, it has met with the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt and other organizations to encourage them to seek it out when corruption issues arise.
In addition to the ACA, the Central Auditing Authority (CAA) acts as an anti-corruption body, stationing monitors at state-owned companies to report corrupt practices. The Ministry of Justice’s Illicit Gains Authority is charged with referring cases in which public officials have used their office for private gain. The Public Prosecution Office’s Public Funds Prosecution Department and the Ministry of Interior’s Public Funds Investigations Office likewise share responsibility for addressing corruption in public expenditures.
Resources to Report Corruption
Minister of Interior
General Directorate of Investigation of Public Funds
Telephone: 02-2792-1395 / 02-2792 1396
10. Political and Security Environment
Stability and economic development remain Egypt’s priorities. The Egyptian government has taken measures to eliminate politically motivated violence while also limiting peaceful protests and political expression. Egypt’s presidential elections in March 2018 and senatorial elections in August 2020 proceeded without incident. Militant groups also committed attacks in the Western Desert and Sinai. The government has been conducting a comprehensive counterterrorism offensive in the Sinai since early 2018 in response to terrorist attacks against military installations and personnel by ISIS-affiliated militant groups. In February 2020, ISIS-affiliated militants claimed responsibility for an attack against a domestic gas pipeline in the northern Sinai. Although the group claimed that the attack targeted the recently opened natural gas pipeline connecting Egypt and Israel, the pipeline itself was undamaged, and the flow of natural gas was not interrupted.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
* Sources for Host Country Data: Central Bank of Egypt; CAPMAS; GAFI
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Data not available.
|Portfolio Investment Assets|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars, 2019)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||985||100%||All Countries||377||100%||All Countries||608||100%|
|United States||242||25%||International Organizations||216||57%||United States||233||38%|
|International Organizations||216||22%||Saudi Arabia||27||7%||Saudi Arabia||92||15%|
|Saudi Arabia||120||12%||Italy||23||6%||United Arab Emirates||56||9%|
|United Arab Emirates||59||6%||Switzerland||17||5%||United Kingdom||46||8%|